Nate Silver at FiveThiryEight gives Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) the benefit of the doubt.
Sure, Harry Reid has managed to trap himself now on the subject of Roland Burris, and is getting a lot of criticism for it. But how many of you saw his dilemma coming? At the time the Blagojevich scandal broke, did Reid and the Democrats really have any choice but to distance themselves as much as possible, and assert flatly that they wouldn’t seat anyone that he nominated? Did they really have any reason to expect that a quasi-credible candidate like Roland Burris would actually accept Blagojevich’s nomination (as opposed to someone like, say, Patti Blagojevich?)
I think Reid can be criticized for one thing — for failing to advocate for a special election. But even if the Democrats had made a more earnest push to hold a special election, that would still have provided for the possibility that Blagojevich would attempt to nominate someone in the meantime. What were they supposed to have said? “You know Rod, we really have no legal grounds to block your nominee, so please pretty please with a cherry on top don’t do it?”
The problem for Sen. Reid is that he probably thought that Gov. Blagojevich had an ounce of respectability or trustworthiness in him. But even those of us who have only been marginally aware of the shenanigans going on in Illinois knew that he was both breathtakingly bold and without a shred of scruples. All you had to do was listen to the tapes of the conversations recorded by the wiretaps to get that. And it’s not like the United States Senate could do anything about the governor’s actions even if they wanted to. There’s no force of law that the federal government can impose on a duly elected governor of a state performing his duties as prescribed by state law.
The simple solution for Mr. Reid would have been to allow Mr. Burris to be sworn in, let him take his seat, and then ignore him like the potted plant in the corner. He would have all the rights and responsibilities of his office, but like any rookie senator, he wouldn’t have any more impact than anyone else, and it would have deprived Gov. Blagojevich the attention he so desperately craves.